A Ten day Fast – Summary

A Ten day Fast was written by Harishankar Parsai around twenty years after the independence of India. Through this piece of writing, Parsai holds up to our scrutiny the picture of an independent country where some people with vested interests use various strategies to manipulate public opinion and the political system. By using such a method, the writer satirizes the functioning of democracy in the nation.

Summary

A Ten Day Fast is written in the form of diary entry. Episodes between the dates 10th January to 21st January in the life of Bannu and his supporters are recorded. Bannu goes on a fast for an unworthy cause that is to procure another man’s wife. The diary form of writing, seen together with the contents of the story, gives a tone of mock-seriousness to this satirical piece of writing.

The diary entry of 10th January sets the stage. The fact is that Bannu had been unsuccessfully pursuing Savitri, the wife of Radhika Babu for more than 16 years. At the outset the narrator points out that nothing in this country functions on its own, whether it is the parliament, the judiciary, bureaucracy, or anything else. Everything has to be influenced and manoeuvred, in contemporary society. According to the narrator, all major demands can only be met through threats of fast or threats to kill oneself by burning (self-immolation). The narrator offers to show Bannu the way to achieve his heart’s desire: he suggests that Bannu should go on a fast to obtain his goal. {There was a time when the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi used to go on long fasts for a noble cause that is the country’s independence}. By juxtaposing the tradition of such fasts with a frivolous cause in Bannu’s case, the writer satirizes the degeneration of contemporary political and social systems. Initially, Bannu is unsure whether it is possible for someone at all to go on a fast over such a matter; and whether such a thing would work. However, he is persuaded by the narrator that much “depends on how you set up the issue … If the issue is set up well you will get your woman”. He suggests that they visit Baba Sankidas to procure expert advice and guidance. The narrator thus reveals that through manipulative and expert strategies, it is possible to twist and mould situations, and use them for a negative end. Thus, under the able guidance of the narrator and Baba Sanki Das, Bannu proceeds on a “fast unto death”.

On January 11, He is found sitting in a tent. A holy atmosphere has been contrived :incense sticks burn near him, and a group of people vigorously sing the favourite song of Mahatma Gandhi. A deceptively pious ambience is built up. (But the reader can discern the wide gap between the kind of noble purposes for which Gandhi ji used to undergo a fast unto death and Bannu’s base purpose.) Baba Sanki Das craftily drafts the Declaration of Principles on Bannu’s behalf. He camouflages Bannu’s desire for another man’s wife in such a way that it sounds exalted and philosophic. In the Declaration, Bannu declares that he has been prompted by his soul which is incomplete without Savitri: “My soul calls out to me saying, I’m as only one half. My other half is in Savitri. My soul says, Bring the two halves together and make them one. Or else set me free from this world.” Bannu declares that he has gone on a fast to bring the two halves of his soul together. The diary record made on this day, that is 11 January, shows how Baba Sanki Das, the master strategist, uses language to manipulate others and influence public opinion.

Bannu finds it difficult to go through the fast as he has little tolerance for hunger. He asks whether eminent personalities such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave had come to see him. Some journalists come to see him and want to know if the fast is for a public cause. Baba Sankidas shrewdly replies that the priority was to do something to save Bannu’s life. He adds, “When someone goes on a fast, he makes such a sacrifice that any cause becomes pure.” The queries of the journalists show how the media gets attracted to any public display. People like Baba Sankidas exploit the media to shape and sway public opinion. Baba Sankidas continues to shape public opinion. On 14th January, he gets a statement by Swami Rasanand published in the papers. Swami Rasanand claims that his ascetic acts have given him the power to see both the past and the future. These (so-called) powers, Rasanand asserts, have revealed to him that “Bannu was a sage in his previous life, and that Savitri was his wife.” He adds that it is a sin that a sage’s wife should now live with Radhika Prasad. This statement has a great impact on the people. Many people start taking Bannu’s side. This extract shows how religion and media can be manipulated to influence public opinion.

It is clear by 15th January that public opinion has emerged in Bannu’s favour. News papers are full of the story of Bannu’s fast. People in the city are heard saying that Savitri’s husband is a shameless man and that it is “a great sin to keep a sage’s wife as your own.” Such shocking public views are the writer’s way of satirizing democracy in the country. The author shows how even immoral demands meet with public approval through artful manoeuvering. Also on this day, arrangements are made to send a small crowd of people to the Prime Minister’s residence to appeal to him to intervene in the matter. Jayaprakash Narayan visits Bannu that evening. (It must be borne in mind that in the process of writing a satire, the author uses imaginary scenes. The events are not meant to be seen as real episodes, but rather, their value lies in exposing negative social and/or political systems in a humorous way.)

Jayaprakash Narayan, who has been persuaded to mediate and see the Prime Minister on Bannu’s behalf, is not successful in his mission. The narrator feels discouraged, but Baba Sankidas remains unshaken. The latter says that at first everyone rejects a demand; and that the time has come to intensify the struggle. The Baba instigates the media as well as the caste system to create ripples of effect in society in Bannu’s favour. (Bannu is a Brahmin and Radhika Babu is a Kayasth).

On 17th January, the newspaper headlines and a deliberately created advertisement further shows the use of media by a group of manipulative people to present the case in Bannu’s favour. Bannu’s supporters also go to the extent of hiring four local goondas (miscreants). These people are paid in advance to throw rocks into Kayasth homes, and then go and throw rocks in Brahmin homes. We see how the politics of caste- rivalry can be played and misused in a democratic set-up such as India.

Fierce fights take place between the two caste groups. As a result of all the animosity kindled by the supporters of Bannu, such as the narrator and Baba Sankidas, Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code is imposed on the city as a result of all the provocation and violence. The government has been watching the situation carefully, although there is a dead lock as far as the talks are concerned. Thus we see how a trivial matter can be pushed to proportions of nation-wide interest by a handful of people with vested interests. To expose this social evil is one of the primary purposes of this particular satire.

By the 19th January, after so many days of fasting, Bannu becomes weak. He raves and rants that he has been led into a trap. The narrator is worried that if Bannu reveals such a statement to the public or the press, people such as the narrator and Baba Sankidas will be exposed. Bannu’s condition continues to grow worse. The narrator and his advisors issue a public statement on Bannu’s behalf: “I may die but I shall not retreat”. There is much uproar in the nation regarding the issue of Bannu’s fast. The Brahmin Sabha threatens, “If the demand is not met, ten Brahmins will immolate themselves”. Savitri attempts suicide, but is saved. Prayer meetings are held all over the country. Heightening the tone of satire, the author states that a telegram has been sent to the United Nations.

On 21st January all the crooked tactics of Baba Sankidas and the narrator finally yield results! The government accepts Bannu’s demands in principle. Baba Sankidas gives a glass of orange juice to Bannu, as a token of breaking the fast. Bhajans and prayers are loudly recited. The author satirizes the functioning of democracy in the country as Baba Sankidas says triumphantly,“In a democracy, public opinion has to be respected.” The misuse of Dharma or religion is also mocked at, as hundreds of men and women come to touch Bannu’s feet, and people shout “Victory to Truth!” “Victory to Dharma!”

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